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Photo: Mary MacDonald/Providence Business News
A rehabilitation project recently turned the old Mechanical Fabric Company mill in Providence’s West End into a live-work space for culinary entrepreneurs.
Providence can be a good place for starting a food business, partly because Johnson & Wales turns out so many good cooks, partly because the cost of a restaurant liquor license is much less than in many other cities.

And in recent years, the arrival of food incubators like Hope & Main in nearby Warren have provided a way for food entrepreneurs to get up and running without going deep into debt.

Recently, Providence Journal reporter John Hill wrote about a new food incubator, combined with living space, going into the old Mechanical Fabric Co. mill in Providence’s West End.

“In its 125 years,” writes Hill, “the old brick factory at 55 Cromwell St. has made bicycle tires, electronic components and jewelry. Now it’s getting ready to make dinner.

“The interior of the 1891 building, once filled by the clatter and thrum of steam-powered, belt-driven machines, is being gutted and rebuilt as the new home of two commercial kitchens, restaurant space and 40 efficiency apartments for young food-industry entrepreneurs.

“Federico Manaigo, whose Cromwell Ventures LLC owns the building, said the conversion is aimed at capitalizing on Providence’s reputation as a restaurant mecca. When finished, he said, the factory will be home to recent college graduates considering the restaurant business, either as chefs or owners. …

“Manaigo wants to see if he can duplicate the success of Hot Bread Kitchen, an incubator program in East Harlem in New York City. That program, without apartments, rents space to people with small ethnic food businesses who want to grow into full-fledged commercial operations. It also provides training programs and rents space to start-ups that grow from those efforts.

“The idea is to give promising food-business grads a way to stay in Providence, he said, where they can hone their skills and, when they’re ready to open a restaurant, bakery or catering company, do it in Rhode Island and hire Rhode Islanders. …

“Manaigo said he wants to see if the project can tap into sources of culinary inspiration beyond the colleges. The East Harlem incubator found success by recruiting immigrants, especially women, from the neighborhood, persuading them to share their recipes from home and start small bakeries selling their food. The West End has Middle Eastern, Asian and Central and South American restaurants in its storefronts, a sign of a diverse ethnic population Manaigo said he hopes the kitchen can work with.”

Mayor Jorge Elorza has said he likes that the project offers “a way for the city to use the colleges in the area as sources of potential new business owners and play off the restaurant business in a way that could make it even bigger in the future.

” ‘The whole food scene is a strategic strength for the city,’ he said. ‘This fits squarely within that.’ ” More here.

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A husband and wife who run a restaurant in Norfolk, Mass., have opened their hearts to worthy causes, offering to assist through sales of a Brazilian dough boy.

Bella English writes at the Boston Globe, ” ‘We know the stresses of running a restaurant,” says Jennifer [Lima], 37. ‘But we promised each other we would also use it to do some good.’ …

“They donate bread weekly to the Wrentham Food Pantry. Their first Easter brunch, they donated much of the sales to the local fire department. They’re constantly giving gift cards to this or that raffle.

“When a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, struggling to work while raising her son and undergoing treatment, they donated a percentage of their earnings to Project Princess, which a friend organized on the woman’s behalf.

“And when the family of a young Marine just back from Afghanistan wanted to book a welcome home party, the Limas told them no problem. In late December, a peak holiday time, they closed the restaurant and donated the entire party. They hung signs and strung red, white, and blue lights around the bar.

“ ‘Who else closes on a busy Saturday night?’ asks Lauren Eliopoulos, the Marine’s sister. ‘They would not take anything in return. It touched my entire family.’ …

“Rolling in the Dough, [is] the couple’s latest endeavor. Their ‘Doughboy,’ take my word for it, is the best piece of fried dough you’ll ever eat. … The box notes that 100 percent of the proceeds from Doughboy sales will go to a person, family, or cause in need. ‘Do you know a deserving cause? E-mail lima@novatosgrill.com.’ ”

Read more here.

Photo: Bella English

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In the last year or so, the Boston Globe has been featuring occasional reviews of restaurants in other countries. Knowing I have a few readers in Sweden, I thought I would mention this week’s review, about a restaurant in Stockholm. (If you go, let me know how you like it.)

Luke Pyenson writes, “Occasionally you see a plate of food so beautiful, it’s almost difficult to take the first bite. Imagine 20 such plates on the same table. This is what you’re up against at Rosendals Tradgard, an expansive and unique bakery-cafe-and-garden here. As you approach it, the aromas hit you, then once inside, on an impossibly long table, you see morning buns, pastries, savories, sandwiches, cakes, tarts, and everything in between. As gorgeous as this veritable smorgasbord is, the sheer attractiveness of it all — like Scandinavia itself — is a bit intimidating.

“Located on Djurgarden, one of the 14 islands that make up Sweden’s pristine and enchanting capital city, Rosendals Tradgard is a place with history. First sold to soon-to-be crowned King Karl XIV Johan in 1817, the land around the restaurant was developed by the Swedish Horticultural Society for gardening and horticultural education in the early 1860s. Today, the vast complex comprises sprawling gardens (including a rose garden and apple orchard) where fruits and vegetables are cultivated, plus a cafe, bakery, plant shop, and food shop located in greenhouses. In keeping with the spirit of the Swedish Horticultural Society, there are courses, lectures, and a variety of other cultural activities around biodynamic gardening.” Click for more about the food.

And if you are in the Greater Boston area and hungry for Swedish Cardamom Rolls (kardemummabullar), check out the 43rd annual Scandinavian Fair tomorrow, Saturday, at the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School, 500 Walden St., Concord, MA, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Or you could try a recipe from Epicurious, here. It’s a bit of work. Suzanne once made the rolls for Erik, but not since having a two-year-old who likes to take charge in the kitchen.

Photo: Luke Pyenson for the Boston Globe
A plate of fresh-baked kardemummabullar at Rosendals Tradgard in Stockholm.

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Of the various articles written recently about the elderly Koreans hanging out in a McDonald’s in Queens, the one I liked best and learned the most from was Michael Kimmelman’s at the NY Times. He asks an intriguing question.

“Why that McDonald’s?

“The kerfuffle started when word spread that the police were repeatedly evicting elderly Korean patrons from a McDonald’s in Queens. The Koreans have been milking their stays over $1.09 coffees, violating the restaurant’s 20-minute dining limit. The news made headlines as far away as Seoul. Last week, Ron Kim, a New York State assemblyman, brokered a détente: The restaurant promised not to call the police if the Koreans made room during crowded peak hours.

“Still, the question remains. The McDonald’s at issue occupies the corner of Parsons and Northern Boulevards, in Flushing. A Burger King is two blocks away. There are scores of fast-food outlets, bakeries and cafes near Main Street, a half-mile away

“So, in the vein of the urban sociologist William H. Whyte, who helped design better cities by watching how people use spaces, I spent some time in Flushing. What I found reinforced basic lessons about architecture, street life and aging neighborhoods.” Read it all.

My key takeaways: older people, especially those with canes, think two blocks from home is OK, but not four; elderly people like picture windows and a busy street corner with a constantly changing scene; they like looking in to see if people like them are inside (the McDonald’s on Main Street has older Chinese, not Koreans); they like little nooks where a group can gather comfortably.

As a longtime booster of walkable communities, I find it all makes perfect sense. If such naturally occurring communities continue to appear, perhaps they should be encouraged, with some kind of compensation for the business owner. What if the city redirected some money for senior programs to a business that provided space in downtimes? Crazy?

My husband frequents a coffee shop group where folks hang out but not all day. That group has had its differences with the proprietor, goodness knows. There ought to be ways to make everyone happy.

Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times
Picture windows, lively traffic and easy access for the elderly: the McDonald’s at Northern and Parsons Boulevards in Queens.

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An early version of fast food, as many readers will recall, was the Automat. You didn’t wait for a waiter to wait on you. You took your nickels and quarters to a wall of little doors, popped the coins in where you saw what you wanted to eat, opened the little door, and then took your piece of pie or sandwich or whatever to a table where, more often than not, you dined with strangers.

I found this recent NY Times story by Sam Roberts charming.

“The Automat is being recreated at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue starting Friday for an exhibition on lunch. …

“The Automat, which first opened in Philadelphia, was democratic, because its tables accommodated customers from every class. It replaced the free lunch at saloons shuttered by Prohibition. The chrome and brass vending machines framed by Italian marble conveyed cleanliness, because the workers who prepared the food were invisible behind the spinning steel drums that fed the machines. …

“In a doctoral dissertation at Cornell University, Alec Tristin Shuldiner noted that compared with Philadelphians, New Yorkers wanted more sugar in their stewed tomatoes, favored seafood, except for oysters, craved clam chowder and chicken pies, and eschewed scrapple. …

“The playwright Neil Simon once wrote of his Automat memories, recalling that he learned more from his dining partners there than during three years at Princeton:

‘And the years went by and I turned from a day customer to a night patron, working on those first attempts at monologues and sketches at two in the morning, over steaming black coffee and fresh cheese Danish. And a voice from the stranger opposite me.

‘ “Where you from? California?”

‘ “No. I grew up in New York.”

‘ “Is that so? Where in New York?”

‘ “At this table.” ’ ”

But perhaps you’d like to read the whole thing.

Photograph: Berenice Abbott, NY Public Library

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I had heard about community-supported-agriculture-type efforts that deliver fish directly to consumers in the Greater Boston area. Very fresh. What I did not know is that this sort of initiative is taking place on a wider scale.

My husband recently pointed out a NY Times story on how professional Rhode Island fishermen have made it easy for chefs to buy directly from the daily catch. And according to the Times, the chefs are ecstatic.

“This boat-to-table initiative is part of Trace and Trust, a program that [Point Judith-based fisherman Steve] Arnold; Christopher Brown, the head of the Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association; and Bob Westcott, another local fisherman, started this year to make fishing more lucrative and shopping more reliable. …

“Trace and Trust comes at a moment when the seafood industry is under attack because of misleading labeling as well as the freshness and sustainability of what it sells. Consumers and fishermen have reacted by setting up community-supported fisheries, in which consumers pay in advance for a weekly delivery of seafood. And fishermen have reached out to chefs before. But Trace and Trust has used technology to create a more direct and responsive connection between consumers and fishermen than any other program in the country, said Peter Baker, director of Northeast Fisheries Program for the Pew Environment Group.”

Read more here. See also the Pew Environment Group’s focus on Conserving New England Fish.

Because of the field I’m in, I do have to spare a thought for the fish-processing jobs that may be lost with more of this direct marketing, but there is no doubt that for the fisherman, the consumer, and the restaurant, fresh is best.

Here’s a picture I took of the Point Judith (RI) fishing fleet at rest.

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